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Friday, December 23, 2011
Q&A: Nebraska DC John Papuchis

By Adam Rittenberg

Normally we give you one Q&A on Friday, but you're getting a double dose before the holiday weekend. ESPN.com had a chance to visit earlier this afternoon with John Papuchis, who Thursday was promoted to defensive coordinator at Nebraska. Papuchis has served under Bo Pelini as the Huskers' defensive line coach, special teams coordinator and recruiting coordinator. Rick Kaczenski has been hired from Iowa to fill Papuchis' duties with the defensive line, a role Kaczenski also had with the Hawkeyes. Papuchis, 33, takes over the coordinator duties in place of Carl Pelini, who earlier this month accepted the head-coaching position at Florida Atlantic.

Here's the interview with Papuchis.

What was your reaction when you found out about the promotion?

John Papuchis: I was excited. I also felt like there was a good possibility that it's how it all would play out. It didn't really catch me by surprise, but I was really excited about it.

Nebraska's John Papuchis
"I want to bring great energy, a great work ethic to the team every day, consistent focus, whether it's on the practice field or in the meeting room," new Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
Why are you ready for this step in your career?

JP: One is I've had the opportunity to work for Bo for the last seven years. I have learned a lot from him and understand what he's looking for in his defensive system. And number two, I've been blessed throughout my career to work for some quality, top-notch defensive coaches. I worked for Bill Young at Kansas and Tom Hayes at Kansas. Went from there to LSU, where I worked for Nick Saban and Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart and obviously then Bo. Having those people as part of my background and learning from them has prepared me for this opportunity.

How much have you taken away from those coaches, and have one or two of those guys shaped your defensive philosophy the most?

JP: I've tried to learn as much as I can from each guy. It would be reasonable to think that most of that has come from Bo since I've been with him for so long. But I did enjoy the experience of being with coach Muschamp and coach Saban and Kirby at LSU as well. If you take a little bit from everyone you work with, you accumulate knowledge as the years go on.

What are some of the things you want to emphasize as coordinator?

JP: More than anything, I want to bring great energy, a great work ethic to the team every day, consistent focus, whether it's on the practice field or in the meeting room. Each coach has his own style and philosophy, and mine is we're going to be intense and we're going to come to work every day.

What's it like to work with Bo as an assistant on this side of the ball? He's a defensive guy, and he's been a defensive coordinator.

JP: He's a hands-on head coach, and he should be. It's something he and I talked a lot about, even when he became the head coach here at Nebraska. He had gotten to the point in his career where he had gained success and had the opportunity to become a head coach because he was such a good defensive coach. And now that he's the head coach, he certainly shouldn't walk away from what his strength is. He's always going to be a guy that's very involved in the defense. He's a tremendous coach.

You mentioned the energy component, and you're a younger guy. How does that help you, as a younger guy, being in a role like this?

JP: Whether it's been with the defensive line or with the special teams -- both roles that I've had -- I've had a good relationship with the players. They understand that I may bring some high-energy and passion to the table every day, but they enjoy playing for us. They like that energy, and hopefully that translates now with the entire defense.

You're familiar with the other assistants, but you're also bringing in a new guy, Rick Kaczenski, from Iowa. How involved were you in that process, and how much have you talked to him about where he fits in and his philosophies?

JP: His name had come up several times in the process, and I was all for it. He's a guy I know coach Pelini really liked a lot. Having the opportunity to sit down and meet with him, his energy and his passion about the game is pretty contagious. He's very knowledgeable. It's very obvious standing there and listening to him talk that he knows the game and he gets it and he loves it. He's going to be a real welcome addition to the staff.

You've been very involved in the recruiting efforts there. How does that part change with your new role?

JP: In terms of the recruiting coordinator role, my gut is that it will change. That hasn't been done at this point, but I would think that's probably going to go to someone else on the staff. But in terms of what my role will be in recruiting, I'm actually looking forward to getting an opportunity to really take ownership and leadership of the defensive recruiting as a whole. Each guy's going to have their own recruits, but it's important when the coordinator's involved in the recruiting aspects of all the defensive players, so I look forward to that.

What direction do you want to go in for recruiting defense? How does going through a season in the Big Ten change your outlook, if at all?

JP: Probably the one thing that, as much as anything, came out of the year was that as part of being in the Big 12, we didn't recruit as many linebackers as you would being in the Big Ten, because all the offenses we played were spread offenses. We focused a little more on recruiting defensive backs. One of the things we have to do is make sure in this class and in the couple classes going forward is that we replenish our linebacker depth chart so we have the ability to go two- or three-deep when we play the two-back teams in the Big Ten.

What's your role going to be in the Capital One Bowl?

JP: The roles are adjusting and we're feeling it out a little bit as we go, but I do anticipate being down on the field, taking the role that Carl has served in the past. Rick will be with us at the bowl site and at the bowl game, and that's going to be a huge advantage because he's going to have an opportunity to get to know our players, and they're going to be able to get to know him. That's great going into the offseason and going into spring ball. Next week is going to be a little bit of a transitional feel, but I think it's all going to be very positive.